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Do you really need to rest your arm on the table to eat?

Not sure I really noticed this until I had g-son for a yr. & was teaching manners but what's up with the arm on the table between the edge & the plate? Seems like they're leaning on it to eat. I guess if you spill it only gets your arm and not the napkin presumably on your lap. Also the fist curled around the fork which is way inefficient!

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  1. Mostly I try to get the food in my mouth. Aside from that, I give a green light to hands, elbows, and other useful body parts on the table. As long as you don't try to take too many of the shrimp.

    That's why I love chopsticks ... portion control.

    1. My Sainted Motherâ„¢ often asked if "I was preventing the table from taking off the way [I was] holding it down." My Father-unit was much more blunt, "If you're so tired you need to lean on the table to eat, you can head off to bed now." He once accused me of protecting my plate like a felon in a prison when I hunched over a plate. The one-and-only time I tried to eat-and-run he quipped that he could provide a flat-spade for quicker shoveling. Since I knew where he was going with those points and didn't have any suicidal drives, I reverted to the better manners I'd been taught within the next breath. The leaning on the fist was a little tougher to break but I managed. :)

      1. I was always taught "arm, yes (but delicately), elbow no."

        7 Replies
        1. re: wayne keyser

          Strictly forearm only in our house, and that but lightly. Fork held properly with thumb and two fingers. Quiet chewing, with mouth closed, and swallow before you speak. None of this got in the way of our enjoyment of food, and it allowed everyone else to enjoy theirs, too...which is the whole idea of manners.

          1. re: Will Owen

            "it allowed everyone else to enjoy their food."

            And how would an elbow on the table get in your way in the enjoyment of food?

            1. re: Steve

              An elbow on the table introduces the whole upper body to hover over the table. This is an encroachment upon the neighboring diners' personal territory. Being a person brought up with Anglophilic sensibilities, I feel such encroachments intensely, and would rather leave the table entirely than suffer them. However, my schooling in manners dictates that I should swallow my distaste and suffer the offense in silence. So I will. But if it's MY table, the offender will not be invited back.

              1. re: Will Owen

                "An elbow on the table introduces the whole upper body to hover over the table. This is an encroachment upon the neighboring diners' personal territory"

                Why does my neighbor's personal territory include the airspace over my plate and silverware?

                Since I take up the same amount of side to side space sitting upright and leaning forward, doesn't this mean both I and my neighbors are in constant encroachment on each other's spaces?

                How small is your table? Considering your feelings, does anyone seek to be invited back?

                1. re: FrankJBN

                  I need to be more explicit: if you are beside me, I notice you when we are conversing, but we are otherwise not with the cone of each other's attention. If you haul yourself forward, you have forced yourself on my attention. Where I come from, this is considered boorish behavior. And if you slurp, smack, or otherwise make unseemly noises (as elbow-loungers are more likely to do), those offenses are greatly magnified.

                  The essence of good table manners, as I was taught them, is to be as unnoticed as possible.

                  And yes, many are invited back, including (I must admit) more than a few who violate one or more of these precepts...

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    ...are you also that self absorbed with a left handed person? He or She would take up more of your personal space as well...or the European mode of using implements in both hands, hovering a little more around their food, perhaps you could move your chair over a bit, or change chairs,or allow for peoples differences or habits...graciousness goes a long way.

          2. re: wayne keyser

            Me too, unless there is absolutely no food on the table (before the appetizer, between courses or after dessert) then an elbow is ok...

          3. In a word: no. It's bad manners to put an elbow on the table. I don't know who made this rule up, but I've always followed it. Plus, I never leave enough room between the edge of the table and the plate to stick my elbow in there.

            Your comment about the fist curled around the fork made me laugh....way typical kid move and very cute when they are young :)

            2 Replies
            1. re: diablo

              "Your comment about the fist curled around the fork made me laugh....way typical kid move and very cute when they are young :)"
              cute when they're young, yes. unfortunately there are many adults who appear never to have progressed beyond the fist-hold. that's one of my biggest peeves when it comes to table manners [or lack thereof]. it seems to be more common among men than women, and there's just something so oafish about a grown man shoveling food into his mouth with his paw wrapped around a small utensil.

              re: the elbows on the table, we were taught in my house that it's always a no-no, but it doesn't really bother me when i see others do it. i've dined with many people over the years who keep at least one perched on the table. i do see it more often in casual situations than formal settings.

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                I agree: Adults doing the fist curled around the fork=not so cute.

            2. As someone whose family DIDN'T fuss abt such things - I have to say I don't understand the problem...Chewing w/open mouth - ick! But elbows and anything else we see every day? (Well, no feet...!)

              1. I don't think there is a way to gaze into a beautiful woman's eyes at dinner without forearms on the table gently supporting the tilt for the closer look....

                2 Replies
                1. re: Veggo

                  True! But the key word, I think, is "gently" ... I'm sure you don't want to scare her off by leaning her way with both forearms firmly planted on the table!

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    I concur. And when she "gently" does the same, it is one of those magical moments, that is partly what fine dining out is all about.

                2. "Mabel, Mabel, if you are able, keep your elbows off of the table"

                  God my childhood was a fertile ground of prissiness and reproach.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: hill food

                    that's funny. the version i learned was "navel, navel, if you are able, keep your belly off of the table". i am impeccably well mannered by these standards, fyi.

                  2. Offhand, I'd say that in most Western cultures elbows on table are bad form; I think it is usually assumed to be "greedy" and protecting your food stash from others. I'd love to hear from people from other cultures...

                    There does seem to be a big divide between a what? Anglo-Saxon, or Anglo-American? preference for keeping unused arms in laps, and the French and other Continental preference for having them exposed at all times (on table, but not elbows except in very casual contexts and never "hoarding"...

                    We are assuming here people who are not disabled, or small children, for whom fist around fork may be more efficient and less messy...

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: lagatta

                      I suspect "no elbows on the table" arose from unfortunate accidents, depending on where the support (of the tabletop) was and the weight of the elbow. I've encountered a few elbows heavy enought to tilt the table.

                      1. re: lagatta

                        Yes, here in France you're never supposed to put your hands in your lap. This is because then people might start to wonder what you were doing with your hands udner the table.

                        I try to teach my children not to hover too close to their plates - this seems more important than the elbow question. It's all about making your fellow eaters feel comfortable and no one wants to eat with a ravinous dog.

                        1. re: bricogirl

                          I can understand the forearm, esp. in countries that don't employ the rather ridiculous cut and switch fork-hand practice I was raised with. but the elbow is just a little on the ravenous/territorial side of body language.

                        2. re: lagatta

                          I am prone, upon occassion, to lay my arm on the small space of the table between myself and my plate. I have seen many people do this. It is not rare. I don't do it every time, but it has been known to happen. I don't see how this interferes or appears greedy as my food is still exposed on all sides. And I don't see how this encraoches on anyone's space. Also sometimes I do this when I am not actually taking food off my plate, so at those times I am in no danger of spilling anything on myself.

                          So many rules to live by!

                        3. I have a bad back and it helps me when I lean towards my plate.

                          Unless I'm eating wings or something that requires two hands and hanging over the plate for drip reasons, elbows on the table is not acceptable.


                          1. "Elbows on the table" does indeed indicate a territorial stance, to be avoided in polite situations.

                            "Elbows on the table" are totally acceptable in Sports Bar/Superbowl Party situations, where the rules of Jock-Ingestion-Etiquette require that the contenders compete in arm wrestling to decide who gets the last of each remaining item on the buffet.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: FoodFuser

                              If I've finished first - restaurant setting - I always put both elbows on the tables, and join my hands over my empty plate to scare away overly aggressive and ill-trained busboys and/or waiters.

                              To Steve, who is prone to lay his arm on the table. Do you have your knife or folk sticking up into the air, or does it follow how you arm lays?

                              1. re: toitoi

                                Glad you asked. The arm I lay on the table does not have a utensil in it.

                                And, yes sometimes I lean in, especially if there is more than one conversation going on at the same time. Or if I would like to start a new conversation while someone else is talking. "Excuse me, I haven't finished interrupting," is considered the polite way to do this.

                            2. I'm sure there was a good story in Ruth Reichl's memoirs (the first book, I think) about how someone knew/assumed she was from a wealthy family because she had bad table manners, like elbows on table, etc. I'm probably mangling the story; it's been years since I read it. But the general idea stuck with me.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Kagey


                                I'm confused by "...knew/assumed she was from a wealthy family because she had bad table manners..."

                                If she were old money wealthy, she would have had good table manners.

                                Nouveau riche, an entirely other matter -lol

                                1. re: toitoi

                                  toitoi: I'd change that from "would" to "ought".

                                  yes, one would think so. but some ancien riche just don't give a crap and don't have to. (look at their shoes - if it's not some event, they're usu. really comfy) besides, being a member of a certain circle doesn't guarantee anything.

                                  I've found the nouveau and ancien pauvre to generally have the best manners and able to pull them off in an effortless way the nouveau riche can only hope to cultivate and might never occur to others.

                                  bad manners occur when one is either clueless or careless. the exact reasons rarely go hand in hand with finances or pedigree in my experience.

                                  (later edit) I sounded harsh.

                                  hospitality and welcome are some of the few universals we have at our employ. if you're good company go ahead and use your fingers for all I care, just be neat. depending on the food, I may join in.

                                  (umm this isn't a business lunch, right?)

                                  1. re: hill food

                                    i like your theory. but sadly, i'm both ancien pauvre and ill mannered. however, i do have nice shoes.

                                    1. re: cimui

                                      I like my arm on the table, makes it easy to hold my cigar.

                              2. I have a bad habit of having my elbow on the table. Just can't break it!

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Chew on That

                                  Elbows may not be de rigueur, but amongst the widespread instances of poor manners, noises are far more annoying: slurping, open-mouthed chewing, talking with a mouthful of food....argh! Unfortunately these seem to be becoming acceptable. I don't have cable, but among the PBS cooking shows I notice that Ming Tsai consistently slurps his wine and verges on talking through his food, while Lidia Bastianich is a very noisy eater who also starts talking before she's done swallowing - hit the mute button when she samples that completed pan of pasta!

                                  1. re: greygarious

                                    In Japan, you slurp your noodles. There is a scene in a great food movie (Tampopo), where a group of young girls were being taught etiquette in a fancy Italian restaurant. They were being forced to eat spaghetti without making a sound, meanwhile a man below is slurping happily away at his spaghetti as if he were eating a bowl of ramen.

                                    1. re: greygarious

                                      Oh my goodness, I'm so glad you mentioned Lidia Bastianich b/c her loud chewing really annoys me. But she is such a knowledgeable and gracious chef that I overlook it. I wonder if TV chefs talk through their food b/c there is no time for them to finish chewing, swallowing and then talk?

                                  2. For all of us who suffer from bad backs and blown out disks, supporting your body weight on your elbows relieves some of the stress on the back, It was a method taught to me in physical therapy and it is the only way I can sit through a meal, It may be uncouth, but whatever works...

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: grumpy2

                                      Glad to know I'm not the only one! I didn't know they actually taught it in physical therapy, though - I got into the habit recovering from a long spinal fusion and it stuck.

                                    2. hmm, doesn't really bother me unless you're sticking your elbows in my food or the elbow is allowing your hand to wildly gesticulate with a fork at my eye level. that said, it's good to know the rules, if only to break them.

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: cimui

                                        Had to come back on and comment. I DID NOT say elbows. I meant the arm that is laid between the edge of the table and your plate. Whole forearm from elbow to hand.

                                        1. re: Linda VH

                                          an intriguing position. sorry to've misunderstood. my only guess is that perhaps if he's a small kid sitting at an adult-sized table, that he needs that extra leverage to get to the far side of the plate? =)

                                          1. re: cimui

                                            Sadly not a child - all adults lol!!!

                                            1. re: Linda VH

                                              Here's another point -- as a TALL person, and with a very long torso, I find it too much sometimes to keep up the straight posture all evening. I am usually taller than everyone even when sitting down, so I admit to sometimes leaning with one or two elbows on the table. This is especially true in loud restaurants, or where the table is really wide and the other person is far away (relatively) -- I kind of need to lean in. I try to keep it to a minimum, but it's going to happen.

                                              1. re: Lucymax

                                                Er, that is also true if you are a buxom woman, unless etiquette allows you to stick your pretty serviette in your corsage...

                                                Linda, I don't understand why you would object to forearms (not elbows) on the table. Elbows do seem a bit hick (except for the people who have to use them due to disabilities - in that case you just have to understand, as not doing so would be infinitely ruder) but many of us were brought up to keep our hands and even some of our forearm on the table.

                                                1. re: lagatta

                                                  Yes, lagatta, I also wonder what is objectionable about the forearm. I can understand if it encircles the plate, but simply resting there? I just don't see the problem!

                                                  1. re: lagatta

                                                    I suspect you mean decolletage, not corsage - as far as I know, etiquette has nothing to say on the subject of putting napkins into flowers.

                                                    But getting back to the topic at hand - I was taught that elbows stay off the table in general, but they are allowed between courses and after the meal, when only bread and/or drinks are present. Anyone else heard this?

                                                    1. re: BobB

                                                      I was just thinking in French.

                                                      1. re: BobB

                                                        Yes - I've heard the same thing about elbows being ok in those instances.

                                          2. Yes, it give me so much more leverage with my right (fork) arm